Autorotational musings

Salute to the past.

I wrote this in 2015, after an idyllic afternoon with my gyroplane on a special day. It was only meant as a private musing, but it’s from the heart, so I’ll put it here in tribute to those who have been part of our autorotational journey.

G-BVDJ is 21 years old today. It was exactly 21 years ago on a Sunday afternoon at St. Merryn, when Chris Julian took her into the air for the very first time. The pile of metal we had carefully cut, shaped and bolted together now transformed, the process of creation hadn’t been in vain. I still remember how elated I was, how pretty she looked in the sky – how impossibly tiny. There were teething troubles naturally, little niggles to be ironed out over the following months, but now I owned a real flying machine. How cool was that!

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that 21 years later (29th May 2015 to be exact) we would be in the south of France, stirring the air together under the imperious gaze of the Pyrenees. Back then I had rarely left British shores and certainly had never ventured abroad by myself. To actually drive alone, some 800 miles on the wrong side of the road in a language I can barely speak, not to mention towing the most important part of my life behind on a trailer – nah, don’t be daft! Yet here we are, and it’s all thanks to gyroplanes.

21 years. That little red machine changed my life completely. With the encouragement of the late, great Ken Wallis, I left my home and moved 200 miles to be near our beloved airfield at St. Merryn, where a small group of veteran gyronauts patiently kept me the right way up as they shared their wisdom with the neophyte. ‘She won’t fly’ said the critics, ‘girls don‘t fly gyros.’ ‘She flies’ said my mentors, ‘like a bit of silk.’ And thanks to them and the gyro-glider, I did. They’re all gone now, the gurus whose autorotational roots traced back to the 1960’s, but the memories we made together and the skill they gave me to survive lives on, encapsulated in Delta-J. The little red machine they helped me to create and to master exists because of Chris Julian and Tony Philpotts. Along with Bob Partridge and Les Cload, their knowledge and friendship remains a vital part of the fabric that made me a gyronaut. They fly with us always.

As does the man who has done (and continues to do) more for the ordinary British gyronaut than any other – the unassuming and unsung hero that is Tony Melody. He took this gyro-glider fledgling who some said would never fly, and defied expectations by moulding a bundle of nerves into a qualified gyro pilot. A female one at that. Whatever next! And not forgetting Mark Hayward, who with his yellow Bensen lead us on many adventures, helping to build this new gyronaut’s confidence in straying from the local patch. Tony and Mark, to share your experience and great sense of fun has been an honour and a pleasure. You too will always be part of us.

That little red machine changed my life. Cursed with shyness, it’s almost impossible for me to make friends. People don’t notice you when you’re shy, normally I’m invisible. Delta-J defines me: with her, I become someone. People see who I really am and want to talk – ‘What is it? How does it work? Do you fly it?’ Since I took my first step on the autorotational path in 1990, all the friends I have are the direct result of becoming a gyronaut. People all over the world – many of whom I have never met – but brought together by the love of my little red flying machine. There are people who travelled many miles to trust me with their lives, learning vital skills while enchanted with the magic of the gyro-glider; even now they keep in touch. I’m truly privileged.

The pioneering spirit that infused St. Merryn no longer survives in Britain these days. Any sign of enthusiasm for the homebuilt gyro is immediately crushed by the ignorant, and with it dies the innovation and curiosity to evolve. My veterans would be saddened by what we’ve become. Individuality is frowned upon and commercial clones have no soul. Even the basic skills are gone, the essential now re-labelled ‘old fashioned’ by those with no clue. But cross the English Channel and a whole new world of possibility opens up, and it’s here that Delta-J and me have rediscovered what we thought irretrievably lost.

21 years of memories, the strong roots that hold us firm as we begin our new incarnation with the friends who have become as important to me now as those of old. On this beautiful grass airstrip of Bois de la Pierre, the Gyro Club Toulouse has embraced our lost soul and given us new purpose. A positive attitude does wonders, innovation and ingenuity are alive and flourishing. The spirit of adventure and shared passion for gyro flight binds us in a strong community that’s joyful to be part of. The few commercially built machines co-exist in harmony with the homebuilts, just as it should be. If only the Brits could be so open minded.

So it’s nicely fitting that Delta-J should commemorate her 21st birthday with a flight from Bois de la Pierre today. A very different landscape from that where we began: huge open countryside with no sparkle of ocean on the horizon, just a colossal barrier of snow capped mountains to the south. It was an emotive flight through an overcast sky as we celebrated her coming of age, and remembered all those who had made it possible. She’s more than just a machine, you see – every part of her holds a memory.

Sometimes I just can’t believe how lucky I am – and it all stems from Delta-J. I can’t imagine where life would’ve led me if I hadn’t discovered gyroplanes, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be a patch on this!

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